Act 4: Jesus
In our journey through The Drama of Scripture, we now turn to the climax of the story: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Interestingly, the book doesn’t touch his birth at all. There are clearly some lessons to be learned from the birth narratives, although they are lessons that are also present elsewhere in Jesus’ life, I would say, so I’m not sure I felt like it was missing out. But let’s dig into the main points that the chapter did cover.
As with the rest of Scripture, at the centre of Jesus’ mission is the Kingdom of God. His incarnation – life, death, and resurrection – is precisely to inaugurate the long-awaited Kingdom. In theory this sounds exactly like what the Jewish people are waiting for, but Jesus reveals that God’s Kingdom is actually very different than what they had imagined. They expect a Messiah who will kick out the Romans with force, exerting political and religious power. Instead:
And then comes Jesus, who refuses to walk in any of these paths. His way is startlingly different: it is the way of love and of suffering, ‘love of enemies instead of their destruction; unconditional forgiveness instead of retaliation; readiness to suffer instead of using force; blessings for peacemakers instead of hymns of hate and revenge’ (pg 104)
Jesus is even tempted by Satan to do these exact kind of things that the Jews are expecting before he begins his ministry. Instead, he teaches and embodies service and love for neighbour and enemy. He heals the sick, those who were outcast from their society and assumed to be rejected by God. He preaches care for the poor and encourages his followers to give their wealth to those in need when many assume that riches are evidence of God’s blessing. He builds a community largely around those deemed the worst of sinners by the religious establishment of the day. We learn that the Kingdom does not impose itself through force, rather wooing us with love. Like many prophets before him, he stands up even against those who operate the religious systems in a way that hurts others. All of these hint to an understanding of the Kingdom which seems ridiculous to many people then as well as many people now.
Unsurprisingly, this arouses opposition from those who disagree with this vision of God’s Kingdom, including the well-meaning Pharisees and other religious/political groups. Even the disciples still don’t really understand this Kingdom vision, initially trying to fight Rome’s violence with their own violence until Jesus stops them. Jesus’ death becomes the ultimate embodiment of the ethic which he has taught, an ethic at the heart of the Kingdom.
Of course the story does not end with the death of Jesus, however. Many other so-called Messiahs had died for treason at the hands of Rome, although they had never taught the kind of enemy-love Kingdom that Jesus did. But none like Jesus rise from the dead again, which shows that this radical upside-down Kingdom, advanced through love rather than power and violence, really is more powerful than what we default to as “common sense.”
After his resurrection and showing himself to many, Jesus again departs, leaving the next stage of the Kingdom in our hands. He commissions us to continue to spread the news of this amazing Kingdom through the whole world. And it is to this mission we’ll return in Act 5, the act in which we currently live.